There have been better times during his rookie NHL season for Boston Bruins winger Blake Wheeler.
Among the league’s top rookie scorers and overall leaders in plus/minus all season while skating for one of the top teams in the overall standings during the 2008-09 regular season, Wheeler suddenly finds himself with a goose egg on the stats sheet for a team on the verge of getting eliminated in the second round.
But he continues to flaunt maturity beyond his years even with the Bruins down 3-1 heading into tomorrow night’s Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series with Carolina.
“There’s two sides of any sport. Any time adversity comes, you have to react in a positive way and let it make you a better player and a better person,” he told TheBruinsBlog.net today after what might have been the Bruins’ last practice of the season in Wilmington, Mass. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself, you can’t walk around with your tail between your legs, you have to kind of embrace it, learn from it and just try to get better from it. And when you come out of it, you feel a lot better about yourself.”
That’s why Wheeler isn’t letting his stretch of eight postseason games without a point get to him. He’s trying to make sure other areas of his game stay at a high level in the absence of scoring. He’s in no way satisfied with how things have gone.
“I wouldn’t say I’d give myself an ‘A’ for how I played obviously. I think there’s more to the game than scoring goals, but when you’ve had success doing that all year, you kind of expect it from yourself,” said Wheeler, who somehow has fired just four shots on net in eight games. “Especially when the team isn’t scoring so much, you’d like to be able to contribute when maybe some of the other guys aren’t. That’s what you need in the playoffs — guys to step up. I think I’d like to be able to do that. It hasn’t happened thus far, but hopefully there’s still a lot of hockey to be played.”
After skating Wheeler with David Krejci and Michael Ryder from the midway point of Game 1 on, Bruins head coach Claude Julien stuck Wheeler on the fourth line with Stephane Yelle and P.J. Axelsson for the third period of Game 4. Regardless of his linemates, Wheeler’s intent on lifting his game so he can be part of the Bruins’ possible turnaround.
“You’re in the game, so you don’t try to read into it. You just try to go out there and get the job done and do the best you can,” he said of the line switch. “Playing with Axie and Yeller is obviously still great out there; you still have to do a job out there. And I think you just have to approach it like, not as a slap in the face, but take it as a positive and go out there and get the job done.”
There are no other options for Wheeler and the Bruins now. It’s get the job done or go home.